By Ida Brown / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
It began with 60 pounds of Kentucky cured ham delivered to a Meridian church by way of the trunk of a family car.
Fifty years later, a more modern method is used to deliver what has been long considered one of the best country cured hams to First Christian Church, home of the annual Kentucky Ham Meal. But even more significant than providing a great-tasting ham meal – complete with red-eye gravy, grits, scrambled eggs and homemade biscuits – the Kentucky Ham Meal has enabled First Christian Church to answer the call for help for half a century.
"I would have never dreamed it would have continued for 50 years, William would be floored," said JoAnn Apperson, referring to her late husband, the Rev. Dr. William Apperson, who served as pastor of First Christian Church for 33 years. The Appersons suggested the idea of hosting a Kentucky Ham Breakfast in 1963.
"When we moved here from Kentucky, all the women of the church wanted was to make money for a church mission," Apperson said.
That year, an appeal went out to the Christian churches (Disciples of Christ) for special "over and above" gifts to help in modernizing Jackman Memorial Hospital in Bilaspur, India.
"The hospital nurses in Kentucky always held a ham breakfast and it was very successful, they really packed them in," she said.
The Appersons traveled to Kentucky – with their daughters and dog in the back seat – and purchased 60 pounds of Kentucky cured hams for what would be the church's first ham breakfast.
"We had the ham and the luggage in the trunk of the car," Apperson said, laughing as she recalled the memory.
The fundraiser proved a success, raising nearly $600 for an offering sent to the hospital in India that year.
Fifty years later, the amount of ham purchased has increased to more than 2,000 pounds. Serving times have increased to two days, and the event is now called the Kentucky Ham Meal. Men and youth also lend a hand in what has evolved into a church-wide event.
And that dedication and camaraderie is what many FCC members believe has attributed to the longevity of the annual fundraiser.
"Everyone who works with the meal every year is so dedicated and seems to enjoy that time together. We get help from people who don't even belong to the church, who just come to help in the kitchen; we've gotten a lot of new members that way," said Myra Mabry, whose mother, the late Lillian Merritt, made biscuits for the meal.
"She worked in the biscuit room for years and years, had to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning and go down there (church) and start the biscuits," Mabry said. "She was a character; she kept all the preachers on their toes with her little remarks."
Like her mother, Mabry has assisted with the fundraiser for numerous years.
"Once you get started, you're in it for life. Until you die, they don't let you quit; it's a lifelong job, you need to read that fine print on the contract," she joked.
Mabry said she is not surprised the Kentucky Ham Meal has become a tradition, not only for First Christian Church but also the community.
"It was a boom from the get-go; right out the box, it was unbelievable," she said. "And it just grows and grows every year – at one point we said, 'We can't do this, we can't feed this many people.' But we find a way to keep on."
Current First Christian Church pastor, the Rev. Dr. Tom Sikes, describes the annual Kentucky Ham Meal "as a testimony to the movement of the Spirit, the enthusiasm of members in mission, and the enduring call of Christ's church to be planted to blossom out in the community,"
In addition to the overall Disciple Mission Fund, proceeds from the fundraiser benefit the following organizations and causes:
• The Boys and Girls Club of East Mississippi, Care Lodge
• East Mississippi State Hospital Child Activity Programs
• Habitat for Humanity
• Laurie Autry Fund
• LOVE's Kitchen
• Multi-County Community Agency
• American Red Cross-Key Chapter
• Scholarship for Hope Village (in memory of Annie Kate Ward)
• Anderson Regional Cancer Center Benevolence Fund
• Anderson Regional Cancer Center Discretionary Fund
• Blair E. Batson Children's Hospital
• First Christian Church Men's Program.